This past week I had lunch with my friend and colleague, Rev. Donald Jenkins. He’s black. I’m white. We both serve United Methodist Churches – he the largest black Methodist Church and I the largest white Methodist Church in the area. A few months ago we went to breakfast on my side of town – pretty much all white folks running and eating in the restaurant. Monday, we went to lunch on his side of town, pretty much black folks running and eating in the restaurant. We talked about our work – what brought us the greatest joy and what were the greatest challenges. And it was wonderful to recognize what was so similar within us both.
We both admitted that we could not imagine waking up and doing anything else but pastoring our churches for a living. We both admitted that it was extremely difficult work trying to help our people go deeper in their discipleship of Jesus. How we longed for our people to have a more significant relationship with God and how easy it was for our church folks to remain on the surface, to stay in the shallow end. We talked about some strategies we were trying to help our folks start swimming in the deep end.
Then we talked about a recent experience we both had in a program called Leadership Winston-Salem. He had been part of the leadership team that planed what was called “Community Day” in which we were to address issues around race and poverty here in Winston Salem. I had had such high expectations that we would get to go swimming in the deep end of real dialogue about race relations in this community since our group of 50+ is very diverse. We were both disappointed how most of the day we safely stayed in the shallow end, not tackling the truth of our geographical and economic disparity. We agreed it felt like for most of the day, we stayed on the surface and missed an opportunity to go deeper.
I think I felt that way because I have already been swimming around in the deep end. Our churches have been trying to open up this dialogue and admit the stereotypes we have of one another and the amazingly similar hopes and dreams and outlooks on life that we share in common. Our two churches have had two gatherings so far, one a combined worship experience, the other a combo dialogue/Communion service. We have our third opportunity to come together coming up soon. In honor of Black History Month, and because one of our favorite things about getting together is sharing music together our musicians have been working hard to present a combined performance.
On Sunday, February 19th at 6:00 at St. Paul United Methodist Church our choirs will come together and offer a musical and drama presentation written by William Lake, Jr., the musical director at St. Paul. It’s called the Soundtrack of Freedom and it will be another opportunity to go swimming together in the deep end.
I hope you will join us, whether you are from St. Paul or Centenary or Winston Salem. Let us continue to model for the community around us that slowly but surely, hand in hand, black and white, skeptical and trusting, old and young, stranger and friend – we can jump into the deep end and swim together. We can go below the surface of our differences, of this rhetoric of “different is bad” that seems to be permeating our ears. We can model for the community that one of the most important steps in breaking down the walls is to go swimming together. Or in our specific situation sing together. About things that matter. That tell our story, one St. Paul UMC and Centenary UMC are trying to write together. Put on your swim suit and join us. (By the way, Forsyth Seafood Market and Cafe on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive is delicious!)
Grace and Peace,